In a week’s time the 14th Rolex Farr World Championship gets underway in Sydney, Australia. A quick browse through the crew lists suggests this will be one of the most competitive championships in the history of this formidable one-design class. The standard of racing sailors warming up for the 2011 championship is as good as it gets. World-class helmsmen, A-list tacticians and motivated crew are joining forces, all packing plenty of ammunition, as the countdown to the four-day waterborne tournament enters its final phase.
Twenty Farr 40s representing Australia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the USA are set to contest the regatta from 23-26 February. A heightened interest reflects the longevity of a strict racing class that remains without peer in its size. That its crown jewel championship is able to move from continent to continent with ease, and continue to attract pedigree teams, is a legacy of the lasting appeal of the Farr 40 Class, whose central tenet remains the non-professional owner-driver rule.
The Rolex Farr 40 Worlds were last held in Sydney in 2005. Australia, in the form of Richard Perini and Evolution, came out top in a nail-biting encounter decided by a tiebreak after the final race. Australia has form in this class. John Calvert-Jones and Southern Star won the 2000 worlds in Newport, Rhode Island. Guido Belgiorno-Nettis’ Transfusion was in pole position at the 2010 worlds, held in the Dominican Republic, until his challenge unravelled at the last in the face of the eventual winner, Massimo Mezzaroma and Antonio Sodo Migliori’s Nerone (ITA).
Whilst neither Perini nor Calvert-Jones are seeking to relive their former glories, several of their crew are: Grant Simmer and Adam Beashel (winners from 2000) have reunited and will be sailing on Marcus Blackmore’s Hooligan (AUS), alongside Jason Rowed and Tristam Eldershaw (winners from 2005). Hamish Pepper (another 2005 winner) has the unenviable task of filling Terry Hutchinson’s shoes on three-time Rolex Farr 40 Worlds’ winner Jim Richardson’s Barking Mad (USA).
And this may be the key this year. Familiar faces are all around, but are not necessarily surrounded by familiar fellow crew. Even defending Rolex Farr 40 World Champion, Nerone has played musical chairs with the return of Antonio Sodo Migliori to his position at the helm in place of Alberto Signorini; Signorini standing in whilst Migliori was recovering from an accident suffered just ahead of last year’s championship. The chopping and changing throughout the fleet may add spice to the already heady mix, as each team strives for the essential consistency required for an overall winning performance.
President of the Australian Farr 40 Class, Martin Hill, the co-owner of Estate Master with wife Lisa, is another who has rung some changes in the past twelve months. Retaining the services of most of his crew from 2010, he has added the recognized talents of 2010 ISAF Rolex World Sailor Tom Slingsby. Hill points to the expected conditions as another leveller in the battle for supremacy, 'sailing both inside the harbour with tidal influence on flat water and with backwash off Sydney Heads, and then the washing-machine often experienced outside the harbour will make it a very testing event. It will produce a good mix of conditions, with speed, tactics and good old-fashioned luck playing important roles and guaranteeing some snakes and ladders on the leaderboard.'
Those with previous form in the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds will be aiming to stamp their mark early on the championship, even though they know that setting off at a fast pace is no prelude to success. Only a few leaders on the first day have carried the standard through to the finish. Belgiorno-Nettis has first-hand experience of this, ruing his final day loss to Nerone in the 2010 worlds, 'we gave them a smell and they knocked us off the perch. You can’t underestimate them, or get too cocky.' As a statement of intent, Belgiorno-Nettis has added John Kostecki – Olympic silver medallist, Amercia’s Cup and Round the World Race winner, plus twice in the winner’s circle at the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds - to his afterguard.
Another Cup winner, one of Australian yachting’s favourite sons, is returning to race on local waters for the first time in a decade. James Spithill is tactician on Doug Douglass’ Goombay Smash (USA), trading the Southern Cross for the Star Spangled Banner as his battleflag. There are probably few better placed to judge the quality of the crews gathering downunder, 'it’s an awesome turnout of some of the best guys in the world right now throughout the teams. I think it’s going to be a very tough regatta.'
There is a beacon of light for those with newcomers to blend in. There is precedent for change breeding success. In 2008, when Vincenzo Onorato won his third back-to-back title, he did so sailing with two different tacticians. One may have been John Kostecki, but neither were regular crewmates. The time for guessing and speculation will not end next Wednesday when racing commences, but we may be afforded a glimpse of what might come to pass.
The 2011 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship organised by the Farr 40 Class Association and hosted by the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron runs from 23 – 26 February. Ten races are scheduled. An invitational race around Sydney Harbour on Tuesday, 22 February will form a preview. The final prize giving takes place on Saturday, 26 February.
For more information about the 2011 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, including full entry list and media accreditation please visit www.farr40worlds.com